St. Mary's Church

Bergen, Norway

St Mary"s Church (Mariakirken) construction is believed to have started in the 1130s or 40s and completed around 1180, making the church the oldest remaining building in Bergen. St Mary"s Church is the only remaining of twelve churches and three monasteries built in Bergen between its foundation during the reign of Olav Kyrre (1066–93, traditionally 1070) and the end of the twelfth century. Excavations have revealed the remains of an earlier stone church on the site, probably never completed. The exact year of the current church completion is unknown, but the church is mentioned in Sverris saga as where the rebels of the Birkebein Party sought refuge when attacked by a peasant army in 1183. St Mary"s Church is likely to have been built by craftsmen from Scania, then part of Denmark. The church"s style is remiscient of that of Lund Cathedral in Scania.

St Mary"s Church was significantly damaged in the town fire of 1198, caused by an attack on the city by the Bagli Party, enemies of the Birkebein Party. The rebuilding resulted in several architectural changes. Bergen burned again in 1248, a fire which caused an even greater degree of destruction to the church than the earlier fire. As part of the reconstruction after this fire, the towers were heightened and the chancel lengthened. The church was damaged in several later town fires, but never again destroyed to the same degree as in the fire of 1248.

Although having been built as a parish church for the Norwegian population of Bergen, St Mary"s Church was taken over by the city"s large German population in 1408. By belonging to the wealthy Germans, St Mary"s is richly adorned and escaped the fate of being turned into a ruin, unlike several of the other churches in the city. Not until 1874, long after the German domination in the city had vanished, did it again become an ordinary parish church, even though sermons were held in German until after the First World War. The most recent restoration of St Mary"s, led by architect Christian Christie, lasted from 1863–1876. The church will be closed for restoration work, Jan 2010 until 2015

St Mary"s Church is a two-towered, three-naved, mainly Romanesque style church. The eastern part of the choir shows some Gothic influence reminiscent of the Haakon"s Hall, likely caused by the reconstruction after the 1248 fire. The church is constructed mainly in soapstone, the oldest parts being built of the highest quality soapstone. Shale is used sporadically. At least three different types of soapstone is used, and it is likely that the stone comes from several different quarries in the district.

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Founded: 1130s
Category: Religious sites in Norway

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4.4/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Daniel Lee (2 months ago)
Supposedly the oldest intact building in Bergen Norway. I recommend visiting late afternoon or early evening on a clear day so that the western-facing facade, which is the main entrance, is getting full sun.
Irene Krajewska (4 months ago)
I’m not a church person but this was quite a stunner from an architectural point of view. Twin spires, very unusual. There was a funeral on so we couldn’t go in. It was very close to Bryggen, 5 mins walk.
Joachim B.v.X. (7 months ago)
There is a lot of night in december at Bergen. After some time you get used to the early sunfall and you will discover these beautiful different spots. The old- grey-stoned church holds together its visitors. The lights of the small house invited for a curious knock on the door, I hesitated. Next time.
Hilary Galey (10 months ago)
We were in Bergen Sunday September 3, hoping to attend the 11 am service in English. About 50 people waited until 11:30 and the priest never showed and the church remained closed. No explanation. We had talked with a priest the day before who was conducting a wedding who confirmed the time. We never got a chance to see the church.
Balint Karosi (11 months ago)
A small but beautiful church with a breath-taking altarpiece. This church also hosts the Bergen International organ festival on Tuesdays from June to August. Definitely worth a visit, especially for a concert.
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